November 11, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization
This article addresses something I’ve wondered about for several years – when it becomes available, would men actually use the male contraceptive Vasalgel (News – Medical, 11/2/16)?
For those readers who don’t recall, Vasalgel is a polymer injected a single time into the vas deferens. It coats the passage and renders the sperm passing through incapable of fertilizing an egg. The process has been in use in India for over a decade under the name RISUG (Reversible Inhibition of Sperm Under Guidance). Years of Indian studies demonstrated it to be essentially 100% effective at preventing fertilization with no side effects save a day or two of discomfort due to the injection. Plus, the process is completely reversible at any time by way of a second injection that takes about a month to take full effect.
In short, Vasalgel looks like a godsend to many people, men and women alike. Most importantly, it would be the first truly effective male contraceptive. Men now have two ways of preventing pregnancy – abstinence and condoms. The one is undesirable and the other unreliable. Second, Vasalgel is not a hormonal method of suppressing fertility. As such, it is essentially free of side-effects. Third, use of Vasalgel by a man would relieve his female partner of the need to use her own contraceptive method, many of which are hormone-based and therefore have a range of potential side effects.
What’s not to like? Well, for one, Vasalgel requires that a slit be made in the scrotum and an injection into the vas deferens. That may put off some men. More importantly, we don’t yet have a good idea of the cost. My guess is that it would run between $500 and $1,000, amounts that would put an injection of Vasalgel out of reach of many men. Of course, that would be cheap compared to 18 years of child support, but, if you don’t have the money, you don’t have it, regardless of the consequences.
On that note, I would argue that coverage for Vasalgel should be included on policies of health insurance. I would make the same argument regarding birth control methods used by women. It only makes sense. Insurance companies would save money by covering relatively inexpensive contraception compared to relatively expensive costs of pregnancy and childbirth.
My concerns have centered on whether men would use Vasalgel once it becomes onto the market. Knowing, as they do, that reliable birth control methods are solely in the hands of women, most men tend to leave the matter of their use to their female partners. When it comes to contraceptives, men have little to bring to the table, so they tend not to. I wondered if that wouldn’t be a habit that proves hard to break, particularly since Vasalgel requires a possibly expensive minor surgical procedure.
Of course my theoretical concerns were somewhat mollified by the realization that the non-profit organization conducting the trials of Vasalgel, Parsemus, would surely have conducted extensive market research before sinking large amounts of money into the project. That market research must have told them that there was a large enough market for the product at a cost that men could afford and at which Parsemus could afford to sell.
And sure enough, the linked-to article tells us that men are definitely open to using Vasalgel
The results of the survey showed that attitudes toward Vasalgel were predominantly favorable, 41% of all participants either moderately or strongly agree with the statement “I would use Vasalgel if it became available” compared to only 22% who either moderately or strongly disagreed. The majority of participants also agreed that Vasalgel should be put on the market ‘as soon as possible’, as well as agreeing that it was an important invention.
My guess is that, once Vasalgel is on the market and men are using it, its mystery will be significantly reduced as men tell other men about how it relieves their anxieties about unintended pregnancy and removes the burden of contraception from their wives/girlfriends. That process of growing familiarity should greatly expand its use by sexually active men.
Aisha King, one of the authors of the study commented ‘this research strongly implies that young men today are ready to shoulder the contraceptive responsibility that has traditionally rested upon women. If our results generalize, a new form of contraception for men could change the global approach to reproductive health by reducing unintended pregnancies and inspiring increased inclusion of men in reproductive health services.
All that sounds very promising. I keep hearing that Vasalgel should have passed all its trials and be ready for market in 2018. If so, it may herald a whole new era in the relations between the sexes. Not only should the number of unintended pregnancies decrease, for the first time ever, men will truly have the ability to control whether and when to reproduce.
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